An Irresistible ‘Grinch’ at the National

That green Grinch — he just might surprise you and your expectations.

Those folks who groan at just the thought of a large, green, obstreperous and angry man stealing Christmas presents and Christmas itself from a gaggle of cuddly Whos might in the end find themselves with a bad case of the warm and fuzzies.

And Dr. Seuss fans who love the clean-lined simplicity of the yearly broadcast of the animated television version (as well as the thin book version) just might find themselves quite happily immersed in the goings on, the dancing, the music, the songs and, well, the snow falling from nowhere in the national touring production of “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas — The Musical.” It’s at the National Theatre through Dec. 31.

For the record, my expectations for the show (I’d never seen it) were neutral in the sense that I harbored none, neither high nor low, although I will admit to some irritation at the incessant car radio playing of Christmas pop tunes, including “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”

Apparently that radio exposure had its effect. The production naturally featured the song, complete with a karaoke sing-along opportunity, and I found myself participating, landing especially hard on “stink-stank-stunk” (rhymes with skunk).

In book and television form, “The Grinch” is famous for its powerful simplicity. A mean, stingy, bad-tempered creature named the Grinch is no fan of Christmas or of his neighbors, a happy tribe of family-oriented folks named the Whos (no relation to Dr. Who), who live in Whoville, a sunny little village, apparently in an Alpine setting.

Impersonated with gleeful zest and impressive consonant- and vowel-tearing by one Philip Ryan, the Grinch finds unbearable how the Whos love everyone and everything and find joy in giving gifts — although Grandpa Who, played with admirable flexibility by Brian Rooney, doesn’t altogether toe or dance the Who line. Christmas stands for everything that annoys the Grinch about the Whos. At Christmas, the Whos gather up food for a feast, clean out stores and engage in a frenzy of giving and singing and dancing, then even more singing.

With the reluctant assistance of his much-put-upon dog Max, the Grinch sets out to destroy Christmas by cleaning out every Who fridge and collecting all the wrapped gifts, the tree and everything Christmas, robbing (he hopes) the Whos of their joy, cheerfulness, confidence and, who knows, reason for living.

Everything goes according to plan, and his sled is piled up with all the stuff the Whos have assembled for Christmas, when the Grinch encounters a small Who named Cindy Lou (and that rhymes with you) who thinks he’s Santa Claus come for a visit.

When I saw the show, Cindy Lou was the incomparably and overwhelmingly sweet, bright-eyed, talented and effective Julia Rose DiPiazza — and if you can resist her, well, all hope is gone for you, buddy.

This is a musical that doesn’t stint on anything. The sets and recreations of Whoville are spectacular without being cloyingly so, the Who costumes — which are often challenged in the distribution of weight and size — are eye-popping, the music is spirited and familiar as well as fresh and the show has no intermission, making you feel that your time has been well spent.

Watch the kids in the audience. You just might see a reflection of your younger self. When the snowflakes start to fall, you’re done.

I also loved both Bob Lauder as an older version of Max the Dog and Andreas Wyder as young Max, who becomes the Grinch’s very reluctant accomplice in Grand Theft Christmas. I would have rescued them.

So, altogether now, everybody sing with me:

“Fah who for-aze! Dah who dor-aze! Welcome Christmas! Come this way!”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *